PITTSBURGH – For some insight into the Steelers, we check in with Scott Brown, beat reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
1. What exactly is the state of the Steelers offensive line and how good is it? Seems they give up pressure but Steelers can run. Is that all Rashard Mendenhall?
Brown: 1. Battered and stretched thin would probably best describe the state of the Steelers offensive line at the midway point of the season. They will have two new starters on the left side of the line against the Patriots with Jonathan Scott starting in place of Max Starks at left tackle and Ramon Foster will in for Chris Kemoeatu again.
The Steelers have had to use a patchwork offensive line so most of the season and it has better than anyone could have expected. Aside from recent games at Miami and New Orleans, te line has provided enough running room for Rashard Mendenhall and done reasonably well in pass protection.
Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey may be the biggest reason why the line has been better than it was last season. He is already drawing comparisons to former Steelers great Dermontti Dawson and coach Mike Tomlin has been effusive in his praise of Pouncey — something he almost never does when talking about a rookie.
2. Who is the one Steelers player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
Brown: Pouncey is probably that guy but I’ll go with second-year wide receiver Mike Wallace. One of the fastest players in the NFL, Wallace is averaging 23.0 yards a catch and leads the Steelers with five receiving touchdowns. He is developing into more than just a deep threat and has allayed any concerns the Steelers had about Wallace being ready to start in place of Santonio Holmes, who was traded last April, at split end.
3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Steelers’ OFFENSE you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
Brown: I expect the Patriots to go after Scott, who is responsible for protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side. Tully Banta-Cain had three sacks last season in a game that Scott started at left tackle for the Bills and the Patriots figure to test Scott early and often. The Steelers are not going to leave him out on and island as they will use a running back to stay in and block or chip the edge pass rusher. A tight end also figures to give Scott help on the left side. The rub for the Steelers is that using extra blockers in protection will limit the number of option Roethlisberger has when he drops back to pass.
4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Steelers’ DEFENSE you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
Brown: I expect the Patriots to keep the ball in Tom Brady’s hands most of the game and let him work on a secondary that have given up its share of passing yards this season. The Steelers’ No 1 priority is to shut down the run, and they have the NFL’s top rushing defense (58.3 yards per game). They will allow teams to throw underneath with the thinking that opposing offenses will more often than not get impatient or make a mistake. That doesn’t always work against elite quarterbacks as two weeks ago Drew Brees lit up the Steelers for 305 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 34 of 44 passing. Tom Brady is as good as it gets as far as quarterbacks and he is 5-1 during his career in games he has started against the Steelers.
5. Finally, Steelers win on Sunday if….
Brown: If they put consistent pressure on Brady and force a couple of turnovers. Outside linebacker James Harrison’s uncertain status for the game — he is questionable because of back spasms — is an unwelcome development for the Steelers. If Harrison is unable to play, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons will move outside. Timmons has arguably been the Steelers’ best defensive player through the first half of the season but he is more effective at inside linebacker. To beat the Patriots, the Steelers also need their offensive line to play well enough that they are able to have a healthy balance between the pass and the run.
Thanks to Scott for his time. You can read his work in the Tribune’s blog “View From the Press Box” at www.triblive.com